Putin hopes to steal UN show with Syria-focused speech

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Putin calls Elton John, promises to meet with him.

MOSCOW (AP) — With dozens of Russian combat jets and helicopter gunships lined up at an air base in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready for a big-time show at the United Nations General Assembly.

After John posted a message on Instagram last week, thanking Putin for calling him, two Russian pranksters admitted that it was them who called John and fooled him into believing that Putin had given him a call. Observers expect the Russian leader to call for stronger U.N.-sanctioned global action against the Islamic State group and possibly announce some military moves in his speech on Monday. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia news agencies on Thursday that the Russian president, who was hosting a meeting on agriculture in a corn field in southern Russia, took time after the meeting to speak to John. “Putin also said that he understands how popular Elton John is, so if their schedules permit, he will be willing to meet him in the future and discuss any issues that he is concerned about,” Peskov said.

Putin appears to see the rise of the IS as both a major potential threat to Russia and a common cause that could help restore ties with the West, ravaged by the Ukrainian crisis. The Russian moves in Syria are also aimed at securing what is left of the Syrian state after a series of defeats suffered by President Bashar Assad’s army, and saving Alawites from being massacred, Lukyanov said.

While the Russian deployment to Syria couldn’t be concealed, with giant military cargo planes and navy transport vessels shuttling back and forth for weeks to ferry troops, weapons and supplies, Moscow’s plans remain unclear. Asked if the Kremlin could send troops to fight IS, Putin answered that “we are looking at various options.” His spokesman said Moscow would consider Syria’s request for Russian troops to help combat the IS if Damascus were to ask. Will Russia limit itself to providing weapons, training and advice to the Syrians as it has done before, or will it send its soldiers into actual combat?

If they do enter combat, will the Russians fight exclusively against IS, as the Kremlin has pledged, or will they also target other groups fighting against Assad? “The Russian diplomatic strategy is to be taken into account by the United States, basically,” Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow office, said in a conference call with reporters. “Russia is creating facts on the ground. Russia is not asking for permission to be in Syria, or to be doing things it’s doing in Syria, and that creates a position from which the Russians think they can get … some kind of an understanding with the United States.” Worried by the threat of Russian and U.S. jets clashing inadvertently in Syrian skies, Washington has agreed to talk to Moscow on how to “deconflict” their military actions. Defence Secretary Ash Carter had a 50-minute phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, the first such military-to-military discussion between the two countries in more than a year. Washington and its allies view the Russian buildup with concern, worried that Putin would try to shore up Assad, whom Russia has shielded from U.N. sanctions and provided with weapons throughout the 4 1/2-year civil war that has killed 250,000.

IS already has threatened to strike back at Russia, which has fought two wars with separatists in Chechnya and has seen numerous deadly terror attacks in the past by Islamic militants. Possible Russian military casualties in Syria could push the Kremlin to respond in an even more forceful way, creating the risks of escalation. “There is a risk of being sucked deeper into it, even though no one wants that,” said Lukyanov. There already have been reports that a group of Russian soldiers refused to go to Syria, citing lack of clear orders and no guarantees about benefits for their families if they were wounded or killed.

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